Autophagy: not good OR bad, but good AND bad.


Autophagy is a well-established mechanism to degrade intracellular components and provide a nutrient source to promote survival of cells in metabolic distress. Such stress can be caused by a lack of available nutrients or by insufficient rates of nutrient uptake. Indeed, growth factor deprivation leads to internalization and degradation of nutrient transporters, leaving cells with limited means to access extracellular nutrients even when plentiful.This loss of growth factor signaling and extracellular nutrients ultimately leads to apoptosis, but also activates autophagy, which may degrade intracellular components and provide fuel for mitochondrial bioenergetics. The precise metabolic role of autophagy and how it intersects with the apoptotic pathways in growth factor withdrawal, however, has been uncertain. Our recent findings ingrowth factor-deprived hematopoietic cells show that autophagy can simultaneously contribute to cell metabolism and initiate a pathway to sensitize cells to apoptotic death. This pathway may promote tissue homeostasis by ensuring that only cells with high resistance to apoptosis may utilize autophagy as a survival mechanism when growth factors are limiting and nutrient uptake decreases.